NT 11: A Centurion, A Servant, and Humility

Ever since reading the story of the centurion in Matthew 8:5-13 last week I have reflected on it over and over again. The centurion’s initial request for help (in person, according to Matthew’s account) precedes what struck me initially as a statement of ego: “For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it” (Matthew 8:9).

Was it really necessary for him to tell Jesus how influential and powerful he is in his sphere? Certainly Jesus understood that the centurion occupied a higher social status. But on the heels of the centurion’s self-identification “Jesus…marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Matthew 8:10). What about the centurion’s statement expressed such great faith?

Upon rereading the passage I couldn’t help but equally marvel at what I discovered. First, the centurion seems to have been working out his expression of faith, describing that he believes Jesus can just speak and perform a miracle because that is how the centurion operates in his own life. He recognized in Jesus something of a peer, a powerful man whose order would be immediately obeyed, just like him in his own household. The centurion understood the mechanics of directive and obedience, and therefore could believe in the application of the system to his request for help.

Second, I began to recognize in the centurion’s statement a profound humility. The centurion, in describing how he is obeyed in his household, was expressing his willingness to abase himself and become like one of his servants, ready to obey Jesus’ command, do whatever Jesus instructed in order to save his servant.

If only we would voluntarily give up status and accomplishments, the trappings of social position with which we pad our identities, and place them at the feet of the Savior, as readily as the centurion. What miracles could God work in our lives if we in faith expressed our willingness to obey God’s directions with the alacrity of the centurion’s servants?

Last year when my husband didn’t get the job we had been anticipating for six years, we had no backup plan. My husband applied to other academic jobs and began following leads from friends. As the weeks dragged on with no immediate prospects, we began praying to know what commandment we could keep more perfectly in order to qualify for our desired miracle. We focused on spiritual improvement within our family, expressing our willingness in prayer to do whatever God required of us. Within three months my husband had received and accepted an offer for an amazing job.

This lesson came full circle for me this week as another New Testament reading led me to Psalm 55: “As for me, I will call upon God; and the Lord shall save me. Evening, morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice” (v. 16-17, OT). When we can make such unequivocal statements as “the Lord shall save me” and “he shall hear my voice,” we express our firm belief that doing God’s will results in miracles. Just like the centurion we can acknowledge God’s power, cast aside illusions of personal greatness, willingly perform God’s instructions, and receive the miracles and blessings He waits to bestow.

Day 80: Did go to work

Ether 2:16

The brother of Jared sets a powerful example of diligence and obedience. The Jaredite group has spent several years living near the sea after being led out of Babel by God. When the Lord commands the brother of Jared to “Go to work and build” barges to travel to a promised land, the scriptures record his reaction: “And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did go to work…and built barges…according to the instructions of the Lord” (Ether 2:16). I love the simplicity of this statement––it speaks volumes! There was no hemming and hawing, no equivocating, just going and doing, and following instructions.

I’ve spent a lot of time in my life thinking about working, thinking about what God has asked me to do, thinking about a school assignment or paper, mentally performing the work but feeling oh so reluctant to actually do it. I have definitely increased my stress level on more than one occasion with this type of procrastination. I have even scared myself out of a project because in my head it seems so much more difficult/onerous/time-intensive. One thing I have worked on in recent years is learning to just jump in, especially if it’s a church responsibility or personal revelation. It’s really easy to talk myself out of doing something good so I have tried to minimize the over-thinking and maximize the doing! I fall short of this goal often, but I do feel like I have made progress toward following the Spirit promptly and managing my stress level.

Like the brother of Jared, I can be more prompt and positive in my responses to God’s invitations.

 

Day 71: The Gospel of Jesus Christ

3 Nephi 16:12

While Jesus ministers to the Nephites and Lamanites in the Americas He makes several prophecies and clarifies doctrinal truths. In 3 Nephi 16 He speaks about His gospel and its importance to our mortal experience on earth. In fact, Jesus suggests that qualifications for righteousness turn on the axis of accepting and living the gospel.

What is “the gospel?” Thanks to the Restoration and the translation of the Book of Mormon, we have a really clear understanding today. The Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches principles and provides ordinances necessary for mankind to become worthy to receive eternal life. Faith in Jesus Christ and repentance form two foundational principles of the Gospel. Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, performed by someone with authority from God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost are two halves of the initial ordinance necessary for salvation. Lifelong commitment to Jesus Christ, obedience to His laws, participation in further ordinances, and keeping covenants are necessary to “endure to the end” of this mortal life and qualify for eternal life.

Day 66: Gadianton Robbers

3 Nephi 2:11

The Gadianton robbers make a sudden and noteworthy reappearance in 3 Nephi 2. They had disappeared from The Book of Mormon narrative after “entrenching themselves in the land” (Helaman 11:26-33) but then didn’t reappear until 3 Nephi 2. It startled me today while reading to have the Gadianton robbers suddenly pop up as a powerful force that threatens to destroy both the Nephite and Lamanite societies.

[T]he Gadianton robbers had become so numerous, and did slay so many of the people, and did lay waste so many cities, and did spread so much death and carnage throughout the land, that it became expedient that all the people, both the Nephites and the Lamanites, should take up arms against them. (3 Nephi 2:11)

Do I have Gadianton robbers in my own life, I wondered? What things (e.g. influences, past misdeeds) lie dormant in my life that could gather strength and then surface when I reach a weak point in my obedience, spirituality, or mental/emotional/physical health? What evil influences have I allowed to infiltrate my life, however subtilely, that could undermine my peace of mind, my standing before God, my parenting and influence with my children, my ability to serve in the Church, my connection to God?

If I don’t tackle those “Gadianton robbers” now, they could become so entrenched in my life that I’ll have to work overtime to eradicate them. But just as The Book of Mormon teaches repeatedly, I don’t have to fight them relying on my strength alone. If I turn to the Lord, He will help me fight these battles, heal through repentance, and restore my personal equilibrium.

Day 64: To whom do I give my substance?

Helaman 13:28

Samuel the Lamanite was a remarkable prophet. He appears so bold and fearless in the scriptures, a Lamanite prophet who preaches among the Nephites to call them to repentance. And when the people try to cast him out, stone him, throw him into prison, he goes back according to the Lord’s directions and preaches some more. As part of Samuel’s preaching and prophecy, he condemns the fickleness of the people and points out that they will believe anyone and everything except God’s true prophets and the truth, their belief being manifest in their willingness to pay and support the lifestyle of “anyone”:

But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet.

Yea, ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel; and because he speaketh flattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well, then ye will not find fault with him. (Helaman 13:27-28)

I realized several years ago that how I spend money is a pretty clear indication of what I value. Not only that, but when I buy clothing or other products, I am supporting a brand, the image or values that brand promotes, and the creators/purveyors of that brand and their agenda. As I read Helaman 13:28 I couldn’t help but think of reticence to paying tithing. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we pay 10% of our increase to the Lord and the money is administered by the Church according to God’s direction. Tithing can be a tremendous blessing to those who keep that law. It can be a great sacrifice for many, but it helps refine us in important ways. And I always say, God can do more good with my 10% than I can with my 90%. So, some people have problems paying tithing, that’s not going to be a shock to anyone. I’m not going to comment on those concerns and I certainly don’t want to pass judgment. But if we reflect for a moment on how we spend money (e.g. what clothes we buy, what cable television stations we subscribe to, what magazines we order and read, etc.), we may discover that we’ve been paying “tithing” all along, but to other gods.

This principle holds true as well for how we spend time: how we spend money reflects what we value. If we pay God first, that’s a pretty clear demonstration of priorities and our commitment to Him.

Day 63: Return again

Helaman 13:2-3

At this point in Book of Mormon history, most Lamanites are now baptized and keeping the commandments. A Lamanites by the name Samuel begins preaching in Zarahemla. He warns the people of their imminent destruction but they do not respond well. “[T]hey did cast him out, and he was about to return to his own land. But behold, the voice of the Lord came unto him, that he should return again, and prophesy unto the people” (Helaman 13:23). Samuel was extremely dedicated to his calling and was highly invested in fulfilling his assignment.

Samuel the Lamanite’s willingness to turn around, not go home, and return to a place he knows he’s not welcome reminds me of a media referral we received in my last city. The young man who requested a copy of the scriptures wasn’t home but his dad answered the door. We started out by leaving the scriptures with the dad; we said our goodbyes and started to walk away. The Spirit told me to go back and knock again. We returned to the home, knocked, and talked to the father again. We ended our doorstep conversation and started walking away. Again, the Spirit told me to go back. I was a little afraid of repeatedly interrupting this man, but I had to follow the Spirit. The man was very nice (perhaps even a little amused). The third time we knocked on his door, we taught him a brief lesson and prayed with him.

There will come a time when God asks you to “return again.” How will you respond?

Day 59: Belief and Action

Helaman 3:27-30

I felt so moved this morning as I read the Book of Mormon writer’s (I think it’s Mormon here) reflections on the miracle of the Savior’s saving power.

Thus we may see that the Lord is merciful unto all who will, in the sincerity of their hearts, call upon his holy name.

Yea, thus we see that the gate of heaven is open unto all, even to those who will believe on the name of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God.

Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked–

And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out.

I’m not going to try to embellish these verses but I do want to point out a few of the phrases that struck me so forcefully.

  • “The Lord is merciful unto ALL” and “the gate of heaven is open to AlL”
  • We must be sincere as we lay claim on God’s mercy
  • Being saved requires that we believe in Jesus Christ and “lay hold upon the word of God,” act on our belief
  • The word of God cuts through the distractions and temptations of this life
  • Our goal in this life should be to become women and men of Christ
  • Laying hold upon the word of God, acting on our belief/faith, will “land our immortal souls” in the kingdom of heaven
  • If we follow the strait and narrow course to the kingdom of God, we will have the peace of dwelling “in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23)

I am so grateful for the Savior Jesus Christ, for His mercy, His love for ALL God’s children, His Atonement, His saving power, and His invitation to follow Him and receive the gift of eternal life.